Vaginal Speculum: Single-Use vs. Reusable
The debate between reusable and single-use rages on in the medical community, but when considering what vaginal speculum to use, it’s not much of an argument. The bivalved vaginal specula have been a staple tool in medicine since as far back as the ancient Greeks. Physicians still relying on the old-school metal device might be surprised to learn that single-use is the more sensible approach, both financially and environmentally.
Working with a Metal Vaginal Speculum
Using a metal vaginal speculum slows down the process. After completing a pelvic exam, the staff must clean the device, put it through disinfection and then inspect it for potential damage. If everything checks out, it is repackaged and put back in place for the next patient. In a busy office, this can steal almost two hours out of the day, just preparing the specula for reuse.
Metal reusable specula are not made entirely of surgical steel. The nonmetal parts of the device can absorb harsh chemicals used in the cleaning processes, exposing patients to possible injury. When sterilizing procedures are not followed properly, there may be cross-contamination issues, as well.
Single-Use Vaginal Speculum is a Better Environmental Choice
Reprocessing a metal speculum requires the use of strong detergents and solvents that are detrimental to the environment. This includes ethylene oxide or sporicidal disinfectants used during the sterilization process. Ethylene oxide, or oxirane, is an alkylating agent that is potentially mutogenic with long term exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists ethylene oxide as a proven carcinogen.
Even chemicals that seem innocuous are impacting the environment. Facilities that reuse devices like vaginal specula often release persistent bioaccumulative toxins during the incineration of medical chemical waste. Bleach, for example, can contain mercury, which is harmful to both wildlife and humans.
Reusable devices require repackaging, as well. This produces more plastic waste than single-use products, because the secondary wrapping is heavier than packaging for a disposable device. When it comes to the environment, there is little doubt that single-use is the better choice.
Single-use Vaginal Specula Offer Cost Savings
The real benefit is seen when looking at the business side of the debate. Single-use vaginal specula offer a cost-savings not seen with metal products. Reusable devices require extensive equipment to accommodate the sterilization process. An autoclave, for example costs on average around $900. There is the expense of training the staff to properly clean and sterilize the tools, as well. The tab for stocking metal specula looks something like this:
That adds up to a total expense of $17,411 each year. Switching to disposable devices is a cost-saving strategy. For a practice that does approximately 75 pelvic exams a week, the cost for single-use vaginal specula with built-in light source is just over $10,000 dollars each year – that is a significant savings!
Metal vs. Single-use Vaginal Specula
Placed side by side, the advantages of single-use vaginal specula becomes clear.
- Efficiency – Staff no longer has to worry about cleaning and disinfecting the devices, giving them more time with patients and to complete other tasks.
- Cost – Using metal specula costs a practice almost twice as much in inventory and maintenance expense.
- Patient Care – Each single-use device comes pre-sterilized, reducing the risks of cross-contamination. Metal devices have parts that can absorb toxic chemicals, putting patients at risk for chemical injury.
- Satisfaction – Cold metal versus a smooth acrylic surface, there is no question disposable products are more comfortable for patients.
The vaginal speculum is one tool where the debate is pointless. The advantages of switching to single-use specula are obvious. Practices looking to save time, reduce expense and improve patient care should consider what sticking with the metal vaginal speculum is costing them.